Friday, February 3, 2012

Colorado Voices: Harness the fear of schizophrenia

An opinion piece posted online on today by The Denver Post:
By Jean Trester

For four consecutive days, The Denver Post published pictures of Gabrielle Giffords and informed us that she is resigning from her office of U.S. Representative to focus on her recovery. If I were a U.S. visitor, I might wonder, "from what is she recovering?" Rereading the articles provides two hints: "massacre in Tuscon" and "shooting in January, 2011."

On day five, January 27, The Denver Post printed an "opinion" that had originated in The Washington Post. Gabby was wounded "allegedly by a deranged young man."

I know the culprits in the "massacre" are a gun, a young man, and a disease, schizophrenia.

In 1981, when President Reagan was wounded in an eerily similar act, the culprits were a gun, a young man, and a disease, schizophrenia.

The gun issue has been addressed (albeit ineffectively) through legislation and ongoing public discourse. (Please refer to The Washington Post "opinion.")

Young men, and women, too are to be nurtured.

What have we done with the disease schizophrenia?

We mimic brain addled cowards, hide in fear, and use euphemisms to describe the consequences of untreated schizophrenia. Please appreciate my arduous effort to restrain my cynicism.

I wish Gabby Giffords the epitome of medical treatment and Godspeed.

What I really wish is that the "shooting" had never occurred.

In the 1970s, we dismantled our state run mental hospitals, preferring community mental health care. We neglected to educate ourselves about major mental illnesses.

We need a comprehensive and concerted Public Health Policy to promote education for our entire population. Anyone who has contacts with adolescents or young adults should know the signs and symptoms of schizophrenia, should be comfortable with discussing these symptoms and assisting in find treatment. We teach sex education and heart health to middle school and high school students. Provide the same fact based information about major mental illnesses.

Schizophrenia signs and symptoms first exhibited are insidious and mild. Withdrawal from family and social contacts, confusion, inability to concentrate and insomnia, appear before florid hallucinations and dangerous delusions. If a college student, experiencing hallucinations, had been educated about major mental illnesses in middle school, he may be less likely to hide in shame and denial and more amenable to seeking treatment.

Anyone in our society should be able to say the word schizophrenia with the same ease and equanimity that we say poppycock, democracy, cancer, apology, Islam, Caucasian, AIDS, mulatto, thank you, etc. Accessing mental health care should be as socially acceptable and as readily available as seeing an orthopedist for a fracture.

I urge anyone who has experienced schizophrenia, has a family member or friend living with this disease, or earns a living caring for those afflicted to speak out, hold hands with our naive neighbors, harness our well-founded fears, and focus our energies on 21st century effective treatments and cures.

Demand science-based information, education, and research for better diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of schizophrenia. Like cancer, early diagnosis and treatment can thwart sickness and death.

Do it for our communities, our youth, and for Gabby.

Jean Trester (jrdtpost@gmail.com) of Centennial is a retired nurse.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an online-only column and has not been edited.

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